Horse Racing: Watch out for the Frankel explosion
...the clash that could provide the most sparks this summer is Frankel against the 'The Wonder From Down Under', 'The Antipodean Arrow' or whatever else Aussie icon Black Caviar is labelled..
Not since the Prodigal Son has their been such an anticipated return of a favourite son, albeit in the racing world, and Timeform's Adam Brookes rates his chances as explosive in Saturday's Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at Newbury.
Frankel in the Lockinge Stakes @ Betfair odds of 1.37
Forget Haye v Chisora, or even England v France for that matter, the clash that could provide the most sparks this summer is Frankel against the 'The Wonder From Down Under', 'The Antipodean Arrow' or whatever else Aussie icon Black Caviar is labelled as come Glorious Goodwood, but first the most naturally gifted horse to grace the turf in many decades must deal with the old and the new on the flat terrain of Newbury.
Having overcome an injury scare that had the Twitterati packing him off to Juddmonte's breeding barns to collect platinum-plated pipe and slippers, Frankel looked on great terms with himself in his piece of work with Bullet Train and Jet Away at Newmarket on Guineas Weekend, relaxed and even stronger (frightening, isn't it?), powering away in trademark fashion to leave those watching scanning his wake for toiling passenger trains.
The devastating drive and determination that saw him go nine and zero during the previous two seasons has still been very much in evidence since turning four by all accounts and his scope to continue to progress (bear in mind his last performance was his highest-rated), means he could rewrite the history books this term, with the step up to a mile and quarter that he'll face further down the line expected to prove well within his compass.
Sir Henry Cecil has been feeling his way with more delicacy than ever in the last month and there is no doubt that Frankel will arrive at Newbury near the peak of his powers if not at the summit, a state which should still enable him to provide his supporters with the thrill their pilgrimages seek.
While there's little doubt the Lockinge revolves around Frankel, each of his rivals nevertheless have a significant part to play, whether it be with regards how the race is run or how the form is ultimately assessed.
Excelebration, which was handled faultlessly by Marco Botti prior to the season commencing, is a top miler but would have been an outstanding one had he not had the misfortune to be born a little over two months after a phenomenon and it needed a tactically-naïve ride from Frankel's jockey Tom Queally in the St James's Palace Stakes to get as close as two and a quarter lengths to the Khalid Abdulla-owned brute during three meetings last year.
But that said, Excelebration did win each of his three races in which the field was Frankel-less last season, including when hitting his Timeform master figure of 133 with a scintillating display in the seven-furlong Hungerford Stakes (Dubawi Gold a distant fourth) at this weekend's track.
Having come through his tune-up in the Gladness Stakes at the Curragh with the minimum of fuss, Saturday appears the best chance Coolmore's new recruit will ever get to topple his old foe.
Strong Suit was clearly not at his best when last of six to Frankel in the Greenham Stakes over a year ago but two months and a breathing operation later, he surpassed the form that saw him run away with the Coventry as a juvenile to take the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot before proving himself top-class with strong-travelling victories in the Lennox Stakes at Goodwood and Challenge Stakes at Newmarket, both coming over seven furlongs.
However, while a parking lot draw and ensuing traffic problems meant his foray to the Breeders' Cup was a non-event, another watch of his third in the Prix Jean Prat, the first of his two races over a mile, leaves nagging doubts as to whether he'll be at his best in what is sure to be a very strongly run race at the distance.
Former Lingfield Derby Trial winner Bullet Train must be treated like a prince at Warren Place as the fact that he's seemingly still undertaking his lead horse duties with metronomic precision despite seeing more of his sibling's backside than Jonathan Brownlee does of fellow triathlete Alistair's is a tribute to his trainer's equine empathy. His role as both companion and target for Frankel is valuable if not vital.
Excelebration's potential pacemaker Windsor Palace had his deserved day in the sun when enjoying a positional advantage against much better-fancied stablemate St Nicholas Abbey in the Group 3 Mooresbridge Stakes two weeks ago, but, on average, he's been beaten over 11 lengths in each of his other 20 races and, like Bullet Train, ratings highlight he'll be lucky to finish that close to the likes of Ransom Note and Dubawi Gold never mind Frankel.
Charlie Hills has his first crack at Frankel with Ransom Note, a horse that had it's best performance when making all in the Joel Stakes over a mile at Newmarket last year, but he is going to struggle along with Dubawi Gold, the dual 2000 Guineas runner-up having been 'Frankelled' by a total of 27¾ in just three meetings.
You'll definitely see a piece of racing history made at Newbury on Saturday whatever happens; 10 races unbeaten would be the longest sequence since Ribot in the '50s, while should the unthinkable play out and Frankel succumbs, one lucky horse will be able to lay claim to being the only equine athlete to have ever lowered the colours of one of the sport's biggest ever poster boy's.
However, a feature of Frankel's wins last year was the large margins he put between himself and his rivals and, with top-notchers Excelebration and Strong Suit in the field, should a similar scenario develop in the Lockinge his current figure would need to be closely scrutinised, moving one step closer to surpassing Sea Bird a distinct possibility.
To wrap up the sporting theme, at the World Open in Glasgow almost two years ago, in a match against Mark King, Ronnie O'Sullivan was all set to walk away from a final black until asked to oblige by referee Jan Verhaas, later stating that without financial bonus achieving 147s just doesn't "buzz" him in the way they used to. Well, I can assure you, we'll happily take 146 where Frankel's concerned this year and should the undisputed champion of the world manage to nudge his master rating of 143 that little bit further, there are plenty at Timeform Towers who'll be positively electrified.
Timeform weight-adjusted ratings
STRONG SUIT: 145
SO YOU THINK: 145
DUBAWI GOLD: 137
RANSOM NOTE: 134
RED JAZZ: 132
BULLET TRAIN: 127
WINDSOR PALACE: 125